KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the eyes of Indians manager Terry Francona, the biggest at-bat in Tuesday night's game against Kansas City may have come in the first inning, long before their game was decided.
But instead of chasing something in the dirt, the veteran catcher kept staying off pitches, ultimately drawing a walk and bringing in the game's first run.
"Everybody in the ballpark is figuring fastball and he had enough to lay off it," Francona said after the game, "and that was huge."
It was huge because the Indians kept staying off pitches the rest of the night. They drew eight walks and took advantage of a hit batter in a 6-5 victory, their fifth straight.
"I think what stands out is that first inning," said Nick Swisher, referring to Santana's walk. "That's the at-bat that got us going in the right direction."
"It was an exciting game, but you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot when you've got eight walks and a hit batter," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Half their runs came off benefits of walks with guys on base and a hit batter."
After going on a 14-5 run to close June, the Indians (45-38) built on a four-game sweep of the White Sox by winning for the ninth time in 11 road games. The victory over another division rival also put them seven games over .500 for the first time since May 24.
It was Cleveland's fifth win in its past six games against the Royals.
"The offense is putting up some big numbers," Indians reliever Joe Smith said. "Hopefully we can keep rolling like we have the past couple of weeks."
The Indians wasted little time getting on the board.
They loaded the bases with one out against Mendoza in the first before Santana recovered from a 0-2 count to walk in a run. Mendoza then uncorked a pitch that nicked Mark Reynolds in the shoulder -- and just barely missed his head -- to force in another run.
Mendoza got out of the inning with a bases-loaded double play, but his erratic ways resulted in more trouble when the fourth inning rolled around.
This time, Mendoza gave up consecutive singles to Giambi and Lonnie Chisenhall and a one-out walk to Michael Brantley to load the bases. Asdrubal Cabrera slipped a single through the right side of the infield to make it 4-0 before Jason Kipnis grounded into another inning-ending double play.
"It was my command," Mendoza said. "I was just trying to figure what was wrong with my mechanics and my release points. I gave up a lot of ground balls in the hole."
Corey Kluber, who gave up seven runs without making it through the fifth his last time out, was having his way with the Royals' still-scuffling lineup the first couple times through it.
The right-hander ran into trouble in the fifth inning.
Mike Moustakas and David Lough singled and Johnny Giavotella walked to load the bases with nobody out. Jarrod Dyson flied to left field, and Moustakas thought about tagging up, but he ultimately thought better of it and scampered back to third base.
No matter: Alex Gordon was waiting in the on-deck circle.
The Royals' leadoff hitter was swinging on a 3-0 pitch and drilled the ball to right field, clearing the fence with ease and pulling the Royals into a 4-4 tie. It was Gordon's second grand slam of the season and the third for Kansas City.
"I was just looking fastball and hopefully it was a strike," he said. "I was just trying to drive the ball with the bases loaded and one out, maybe try to put it in the gap. I just got out in front of it and put a good swing on it."
It wound up being the Royals' biggest highlight of the night.
""It was a big game. We could have gained some ground on the Indians," Gordon said. "That's a good team over there, a lot of solid players. We know it's going to be a grind when we play them. That's what it was tonight. We just came just came up a little short."
Santana walked his first three at-bats. ... RHP Luke Hochevar struck out four in two scoreless innings of relief. ... The Royals turned a season-high four double plays. ... Gordon is the ninth Royals player to hit two grand slams in a season. ... Indians RHP Zach McAllister (sprained right middle finger) felt good after throwing 45 pitches in a bullpen session, Francona said. ... LHP Scott Kazmir will start Game 2 of the series for Cleveland against Royals RHP Jeremy Guthrie.